The headline on Tuesday’s editorial in Investor’s Business Daily – “Get the Frackin’ Gas” – is both clever and on the mark. The publication gets into trouble, however, when the body of its editorial veers into mischaracterizing ProPublica’s reporting on the environmental risks that need to be dealt with to produce the huge amounts of natural gas available underground in the United States.
Our reporters, led by Abrahm Lustgarten, have researched and written more than 50 stories on the subject over the past 18 months and are as expert on the topic as anyone in America.
Here is what is beyond dispute: The gas is highly desirable as a fuel, because it burns relatively cleanly and produces less greenhouse gas per unit of energy than oil or coal. There is lots of it obtainable within the U.S. using an enhanced version of an old drilling technology, called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – much more than was widely supposed just a few years ago. That means using natural gas to power cars and electrical generation doesn’t require sending huge sums abroad, weakening the dollar and strengthening countries that aren’t particularly friendly to ours – Russia, Iran and Venezuela among them.
In the slums of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, about 1 million poor people pay up to 30 times more for water of dubious quality brought to them in old tanker trucks than middle-class citizens pay for clean and safe water provided by the local public water utility via standard household connections.
Some may be shocked by these disturbing disparities in the developing world, but a lack of access to safe, affordable and clean water is also an issue in California, particularly in the Central Valley and along the Central Coast. In these communities, more than 90 percent of drinking water is sucked from contaminated groundwater sources. All told, more than 150,000 California residents lack safe water for drinking, bathing and washing dishes; even more have water service disconnected because they cannot afford to pay their bill.
In 2005 the U.S. Bureau of Land Management offered up thousands of acres of federal land in Colorado to drilling. Because the land was in the heart of an area that supplies drinking water to 55,000 people in the western part of the state, the plan drew strong opposition from local communities.
The concerns they raised — that the disruption and chemicals used in drilling might ruin their water — foreshadowed similar concerns that have since rippled across the country as drilling operations expand from Wyoming to New York. And their solution may be a lesson that ripples to those communities as well.
The communities — the city of Grand Junction and the neighboring town of Palisades — began by making their concerns clear: drilling is important, but protecting the water supply is paramount.
The New York Times’ latest story in its series on water contamination might make you think twice before filling up your glass from the tap. Although the law probably deems your water safe, it could still be — legally — teeming with chemicals that cause health problems “from upset stomachs to cancer and birth defects.”
The Safe Drinking Water Act, which regulates tap water, is dangerously out of date, according to the Times. The list of chemicals it regulates stalled at 91 in 2000 — even though water pollution has picked up since then and hundreds of chemicals have been associated with a risk of cancer when found in drinking water. Efforts to tighten water standards have been thwarted by industry lobbyists, according to the Times.
As environmental concerns threaten to derail natural gas drilling projects across the country, the energy industry has developed innovative ways to make it easier to exploit the nation’s reserves without polluting air and drinking water.
Energy companies have figured out how to drill wells with fewer toxic chemicals, enclose wastewater so it can’t contaminate streams and groundwater, and sharply curb emissions from everything from truck traffic to leaky gas well valves. Some of their techniques also make good business sense because they boost productivity and ultimately save the industry money — $10,000 per well in some cases.
The two are also looking into ways for carbon capture –a method which proposes to suck up and store greenhouse gas emissions.
Although many of the chemicals produced by the American chemical giant are used in the petroleum distilling and petrochemical industries, with much of the company’s “raw material” is coming from Saudi Arabia.
The civil case, filed Thursday in U.S District Court in Scranton, Pa., seeks to stop future drilling in the Marcellus Shale by Cabot Oil and Gas near the town of Dimock. It also seeks to set up a trust fund to cover medical treatment for residents who say they have been sickened by pollutants. Health problems listed in the complaint include neurological and gastrointestinal illnesses; the complaint also alleges that at least one person’s blood tests show toxic levels of the same metals found in the contaminated water.
Even small amounts of oil leave a fluorescent sheen on polluted water. This oil sheen is difficult to remove—until now. According to a recently published article in the journal Chemosphere, an inexpensive new method has been developed to remove oil sheen by repeatedly pressurizing and depressurizing ozone gas, creating microscopic bubbles that attack the oil so it can be removed by sand filters.
“We are not trying to treat the entire hydrocarbon content in the water — to turn it into carbon dioxide and water — but we are converting it into a form that can be retained by sand filtration, which is a conventional and economical process,” says lead author Andy Hong, University of Utah professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Hong says the technology — for which patents are pending — could be used to clean a variety of pollutants in water and soil, including:
Researchers from Columbia University and NASA estimate that since 2000, the proportion of fossil-fuel emissions absorbed by the oceans may have declined by as much as 10 percent. In effect, researchers say that industrial activity has been producing so much C02 since 1950 that the oceans are slowly becoming saturated with the gas. (more…)
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